The medical field has linked many developing diseases to food and different diets. The removal of certain foods, or the addition, can progressively make humans healthier, and a nutritious diet can prolong life. The newest link between food and diseases is the effect Omega-3 (Fatty acids), especially Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has on the brain and nervous system.
DHA also plays a role in the development of eye and nerve tissues. DHA might reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by decreasing the thickness of the blood, reducing swelling (inflammation), and lowering blood levels of triglyceride.
DHA is essential. Its importance starts at birth, as it plays a vital role in infant and children’s development. Formula and breastmilk have high concentrations of DHA. Dr. Branden Turner, who practices family medicine and sports medicine at Kaiser Permanente, also advocates the importance of implementing DHA in one’s diet, regardless of age.
“DHA importance is monumental, and with new studies coming out, we are learning that high levels of DHA help not only with bodily functions and nervous system development but also the development of the brain and the slowing of degradation, which links to brain diseases.” Turner said.
“We know over time your body is not as robust when you’re in your 50s versus when you’re in your 20s. The building block of health starts to break down over time, whether that’s the cartilage in your knees or the bones in your leg, we know your body starts to break down at some point,” Turner said as he explained what doctors notice when doing physicals and checking on their older client’s health.
“The brain degrades over time, which contributes to some of the memory changes you see in the elderly. We also noticed that the breakdown of gray matter in the brain directly correlates to Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases, increasing the importance of DHA.” Turner said.
Gray matter’s purpose is to help the brain process information through the nervous system. Gray matter also helps humans maintain normal human functions such as control over our movements, the ability to retain memories and regulate our emotions, among others. Gray matter is mainly located on the surface of the brain and in the spinal cord.
People develop a certain level of gray matter as they grow from babies to toddlers and so forth, but at a certain age, the gray matter stops growing, and from there, doctors try to slow the breakdown of gray matter in various ways.
“We don’t necessarily check for how much gray matter is in the brain, we check the degradation of the brain and gray matter through CT scans,” Turner said as he explained how doctors assess their patients. “It’s not about how much you start with, but how much you have as you get older,” Turner said.
One of the symptoms that Turner points to is memory loss, and while people forget things, it is different when you constantly forget simple things.
“It’s one thing if you forget your wallet in the house, but it’s another thing if you forget your friend’s name or your keys in the ignition of your car,” Turner said while explaining some of the signs elderly patients should watch.
Turner also suggests that patients should try and develop a trusting relationship with their doctor because while the gray matter is important, once you hit the elderly stage, people can start the degradation process in early adulthood or after experiencing a traumatic brain injury. He points out that everyone’s body develops differently, but having a trusted medical professional near you can keep one in great shape.
Turner explains that while healthy consumption of DHA plays a vital part in brain health, exercising the brain consistently is important.
“Your brain is like a fancy muscle, so you should be doing brain push-ups on an everyday basis,” Turner said as he explained the activities humans should do on a day-to-day basis to maintain healthy brain functions. “You should include social interactions, critical thinking, math problems, crossword puzzles, and anything close to those would immensely help keep the brain muscle strong and slow the degradation process.”
Turner was asked if the pandemic would play a role in the future if there is an uptick of dementia patients as there was a lack of social interaction and other daily brain-strengthening activities.
“I am interested in the concept because seeing my kids not go to school for two years and watching them develop their social skills begs the question of what is the actual short-term and long-term effect of the pandemic,” Turner said as he questioned how differently kids interact today than in years past before the pandemic. “There were high school kids who didn’t go to school for two years then immediately entered college, which is the breeding ground of navigating your social skills. It’s an interesting concept to think about. Only time will tell if this will increase dementia.”
Turner points out that a healthy diet that contains a good amount of seafood (salmon, tuna, oysters), nuts and seeds, and vegetables will help with the process of slowing degradation. He also suggested that those who are allergic to any of those foods can take vitamins and supplements to achieve a healthy consumption of DHA.
Those concerned about their brain health are advised to seek a medical health care provider and ask for a CT scan, as the earlier you catch it, the better their doctor can create a plan to slow the degradation of the brain.